It is my opinion that, in the history of the worst ideas ever conceived, the idea of the single family household is among the worst of the worst. If we take a survey of the things done wrong in the 20th century, I think many people will be amazed at how many of them are tied to the ridiculous ideal of the single family household.
Detachment from extended family and community
The extended family died the day Americans decided they needed to have their own place, and with the family went the communities those families supported. There was an era when the grandkids could walk to grandma’s house or, at worse, take a sleigh ride over the river and through the woods. Cousins, nieces, and nephews could walk to school together. Brothers and sisters could watch each other’s kids when someone was busy. Sunday dinners with the family were things everyone looked forward to.
Instead, we now live dozens, hundreds, or thousands of miles away. For all practical purposes, we’re cut off from our own people, adrift in a sea of strangers, trying to find solace for our violated souls in a never-ending indulgence in the anesthesia of technology, media, and excess.
Our society is dying because of it.
Immense cost and duplication of effort.
When people lived in mutually supporting families and communities, everything they did cost less. Families and communities shared meals, appliances, tools, work, happiness, and sadness in a way that made everything better for everyone.
Now, everyone, sometimes down to the individual, has to have their own version of every single thing that defines modern life. We’ve spent the wealth of the wealthiest nation that has ever existed accumulating a mind-boggling assortment of stuff that serves no other purpose but to reinforce that we live alone.
Consider the cost of your own household. How much more would you have if you could share something as simple as a ride to work? What if you could share your meals beyond just yourself and your immediate family? What if your home was your work because your worked for yourself or your family business?
If you look at the United States at the turn of the last century, before the urban boom and before the income tax used to support it, ours was a wealthy nation. That wealth was slow and hard-earned, but it was a growth both sustainable and able to be passed on for generations.
What do you have now that you plan to give to your kids besides debt?
Insane consumption of resources.
Do you ever wonder where all the wild spaces went? More than likely, you’re living where one used to be. The suburbanization of the United States has meant its denuding as well. We cut down forests and pave over farms to build new subdivisions as if our forests and farms will go on forever.
Never mind the fact that we’ve consumed the world’s resources in oil paving our roads, putting tires on our cars, keeping those cars in oil, and burning gas just so we can live dozens of miles from where we work.
And because we live such a frenetic life, we eat everything out of boxes and cans. Do you say you don’t waste? Look at the trash cans you put out every week or couple of weeks, then follow them to the dump being built as a monument to your waste.
We have launched ourselves into the age of scarcity because we all think the American dream is to live in cookie cutter houses in cookie cutter subdivisions in cookie cutter towns-for-the-sake-of-local-taxes-for-services in a cookie cutter country that is as disposable as the boxes and cans we eat out of.
What will we have gained for all of this? I do not think our descendants will remember this era with much kindness. The irony is that they will share that bitterness about the past they could not control over family dinners in close-knit communities brought together by the excess and scarcity we caused.